Mike and Ricky
There are two regular visitors to my writing world on Mondays at the park. I started conversing with them individually last year in early summer when I noticed their gear behind the table shelter, had to turn off a loud abandoned radio and felt compelled to explain myself when the owner returned a couple of hours later.
His name is Mike.
They are both quiet people at the outset, they will maintain a distance of twenty yards or so and avoid eye contact until you engage them with some kind of introduction – and then the floodgates open – they reveal a life story in selected bits – how it all went to hell – explanatory, mostly tragic and apologetic. You can feel their need to legitimize themselves. Their conversation goes quickly to accomplishments; wives, jobs, homes owned and lost, vocations and purposes drawn from memory and vocalized with certainty. And they know their surroundings, “There are a couple of peregrines nested over there – their young are hunting on that field – right out here. The black squirrel population is down considerably. Birds, Jesus – ounce for ounce they’re one of the toughest creatures on the earth – who can lift their ass off the ground and fly? I can’t.”
I had a discussion about this with Lisa a while ago – she noted they likely have few people to speak to that span the gulf between them and this other world. I believe this is so.
Mike is equipped with a bottomless backpack that empties completely each time he demonstrates his show-and-tell talent. He’s fifty-three, has owned some hellish fast cars and knows how to fix them, keeps binoculars (…I could see you from that ridge), three music players with ear-buds (…they leave the power on at that outlet – in the shelter), his radio, an assortment of tools, four lengths of rope, a blanket, and he wears a coat donated by an oil executive downtown a couple of years ago (…gave me the coat off his back outside a Starbucks). He talks about pneumonia, about the conspiracy to violate privacy and systemic thievery by staff that is the homeless shelter program in Calgary. He volunteers that he loves to drink but he’s certainly not alcoholic, offers three varieties of beer, (empties the backpack again) and two of mind-blowing pot spirited from a small rectangular tin container.
He is a repository of historical speed-metal facts (loves a band called UFO) and you can’t change topics on him.
He asks repeatedly if he’s being bothersome, maintains he’s going to head downtown as soon as he finishes this beer. Over the course of an hour it’s succeeded by three or four others and in the end he’s become inebriated and incapable of speech or locomotion. He sits across the table gesticulating, swaying his head and body and yelling lyrics. I can hear AC/DC leaking from his ear-buds. Rick calls him a wet-brain. They hate each other with passion.
I haven’t seen either of them since last fall – Rick in October when he volunteered that he’d got banned for having ‘punched Mike’s fuckin’ lights out’ at the bottle depot the week before and had to find someone who could lineup for him. ‘He stole a six-pack and denied it. He was handing them out to guys in line. I pulled him right across a counter and clubbed him with a wine bottle. They won’t let me back in now.’
He has a pacemaker – it draws your attention – you can see a square lump under the skin above his left pectoral, just below the collar-bone. It went off once while he was sleeping in the snow, “I thought my fingertips were going to explode – it felt like I’d been hit by lightning.”
Today, Rick appears from out of the trees behind the shelter pulling a shopping cart stacked with boxes of oranges, bananas, plums and lettuce – all mysteriously chilled as if he’s hidden a complete produce cooler behind the building. I open the conversation, calling him by name and commenting on the beautiful day. He’s naked from the waist up (usually), his hair is buzzed down to grey fuzz about the same length as his beard. He doesn’t say much, but deposits six nearly ripe bananas, two huge oranges and a box of energy bars on the table beside my laptop and then sits at the nearest bench to re-tie his boots.
I grab one orange and begin to peel it, “Are they juicy?”
“Damn right. Great oranges.”
It’s chilled and I wonder how. I tell him I haven’t seen Mike yet this year.
“Good,” he says, “maybe he’s dead.”
“You doing ok?”
“I had work for the winter, over there in Citadel – boarding. Fuck that, I’d rather be outside.”
He complains about how far it is to the beer store – notes that he has to get this load of groceries to the other side of the bridge, “…I’ve got two guys waiting for me,” and pushes off eastward.
Two thoughts come to me while I watch him go; it’s a trite sentiment, but generosity of spirit holds fast here, I’m being fed by the homeless – and I have high friends in places.